Jesus noted a man at the pool of Bethesda, a man laying there, an invalid for 38 years.
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” 8 Jesus said to him,“Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” 9 rAnd at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. – John 5:6–9
Further, Jesus was being harassed by the Jewish leaders for breaking Sabbath rules. (John 5:16–17) But Jesus told these leaders, “My Father never stops working, so why should I?” With this statement, Jesus challenged the notion that God himself was somehow literally subject to the Sabbath rules. As we look at this consider the following: 1
If God stopped every kind of work on the Sabbath, nature would fall into chaos and sin would overrun the world. Genesis 2:2 says that God rested on the seventh day; he rested from the work of creation but began the work of sustaining the creation.
While it is true that God rested on that first seventh day from all His creative work, He has never rested from His governmental work, His providential work, supplying the needs of His creatures. The sun rises and sets, the tides ebb and flow, the rain falls, the wind blows, the grass grows on the weekly Rest Day as well as on any other. What we may term works of necessity and works of mercy—that is upholding and sustaining the whole realm of creation and the daily recurring needs of His creatures—God never rests from. 2
God has been at work and continues to work; so does his Son, Jesus. With this claim, Jesus affirmed his equality with God. Furthermore, Jesus was teaching that when the opportunity to do good presents itself, it should not be ignored, even on the Sabbath.
The Jews realized that Jesus’ words revealed his very personal relationship with God. In saying, “my Father,” he was clearly claiming to be God’s Son, thus equal with God. For a human to claim equality with God was blasphemy; and blasphemy was a sin carrying the death penalty (Leviticus 24:15–16). People regularly misunderstood Jesus, and he was constantly correcting them. Jesus never attempted to correct the understanding that he was claiming to be God, for that was exactly what he meant. Thus the Jewish leaders tried all the more to kill him.
In verses John 5:19–20 Jesus did not say that he would not do anything independent from the Father, but that he cannot: “The Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing.” The Son performs the tasks the Father wants to be done because they are of one spirit. The Father and the Son know and love each other completely. So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise”.
When Christ said: “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing”, does this mean that His ability was limited? Or that His power was restricted? Do His words signify that when Jesus “made himself of no reputation (R. V. emptied himself) and took upon him the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7)” that He was reduced to all the limitations of human nature? No. Instead of pointing to an imperfection, either in His person or power, they, rightly understood, only serve to bring out His peerless excellency while he glorified both his father and himself in humility as an incarnated man – scornfully misunderstood and vilified by the Jewish leadership. But here as everywhere else, the scriptures must be interpreted by scripture, and once we heed this rule, difficulties disappear like the mists before the sun (John 5:39). 3
When our Lord came to earth as man, He submitted Himself to the Father in everything. “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God” (Hebrews 10:9). He veiled His glory and laid aside the independent exercise of His divine attributes. In the wilderness, Satan tempted Him to use His divine powers for Himself, but He refused to act independently. He was totally dependent on the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit of God. 4
Jesus acted equally to the Father in immediacy whilst mirroring his Sovereign will. Jesus as a man, potentiating the father’s mind in his earthly ministries, acting likewise, revealed his own equality with God – his own divinity! Similarly, the unity of our mind, when in Christ’s Spirit, reveals our abiding relationship by responding in obedience to scripture, acting as royal priests in the will and favour of the triune God, advocating his will, empowered by his imparted strength. By so living, each soul represents those sealed by God, in accord with the Spirit’s promissory guarantee, unto eternal life. (1 Pet 2:9, Rom 8:14, 2 Tim 2:19, Eph 1:3, 4:30, 2 Cor 1:22) 5
Lenski brings out an important point, with regard to the judgements weighed against Jesus: It is absolutely impossible that Jesus should ever break the law, including that of the Sabbath. This is impossible because he is the Son, from eternity, one with the Father and now the incarnate Son, come to earth to carry out absolutely nothing but the Father’s will. If the Son, then, be charged by the Jews with breaking the Sabbath law, the charge would strike the Father himself. He is, indeed, “the Son,” this Jesus who stands before the Jews in human flesh. The Jews were perfectly right when in John 5:18 they understood that Jesus made himself “equal with God.” This very relation of the Son to the Father makes it simply impossible that Jesus should do, now or ever anything “of himself,” so that the thing would emanate from him alone and be done by him alone, separate and apart from the Father and thus deviating from and contradictory to the Father’s will—even as the Jews charged that Jesus was breaking God’s Sabbath law. Such a thing is possible for men; even Moses thus did a thing “of himself” (Num. 20:11, 12): but in the case of the Son, since he is the Son, this is absolutely excluded. 6
Because of their transparent relationship, the Son always knows what the Father is doing and works in harmony with him to see it accomplished. Because of his unity with God, Jesus lived as God wanted him to live as he worked to redeem mankind during his life right up to the time he was arrested and killed (Matt 26:39). Jesus promised to do far greater things. According to the following verses, this refers to the Son’s ability to give life to the dead and to execute judgment, beyond remarkably forgiving sinners and raising the invalid to vigour. (Matt. 9:6, 7; Mark 2:9, 11, 12; Luke 5:24, 25)
This statement would have shocked Jesus’ audience because it ascribes to the Son—Jesus himself—what was seen as exclusively the activity of God the Father. (John 5:21) God alone can raise from the dead anyone he wants to. That God gave that power to the Son is demonstrated in Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:41–44).
The certainty of our salvation is in the hands of the Son because God entrusted him with judicial and executive authority to judge. (John 5:22–23) Thus, he has equal dignity and honour with the Father—“everyone will honour the Son, just as they honour the Father.” The flip side is that those who refuse to honour the Son are not honouring the Father who sent him. Here Jesus was referring to that time when everyone will recognize his lordship. The tragedy will be that many will then recognize Jesus’ true nature but will have lost the opportunity to receive his saving help. Those unwilling to honour Christ now will discover that they have not been honouring the Father either. People should not say they believe in God while ignoring the power and authority of his Son.
In John John 8:17–18, we learn that The religious leaders did not understand that the Father and Son lived in each other and were with each other (see John 10:38; 14:9–11; 17:21). Therefore, even though the Son came from the Father (John 8:14) and was sent by the Father (John 8:16, 18), he was not separate from the Father—for the Father who sent the Son came with him and provided testimony for him. His confirming witness was God himself. Jesus and the Father made two witnesses, the number required by the law.
Here D.A. Carson adds the bias of the Jewish leaders’ persistency: Jesus’ opponents instantly grasp the implications of his remark, including the fact that he was calling God his own Father. Perceived infractions against Sabbath laws were serious, and might provoke murderous intent; but a man making himself equal with God was challenging the fundamental distinction between the holy, infinite God and finite, fallen human beings. For this reason, the Jews (John 1:19; 5:10) tried all the harder to kill him. 7
The Jews were meticulous keepers of the Mosaic laws found in the old testament. What they miss is paramount to their problem of not perceiving the Son of God. The Jews did not focus on compassion and love, as Moses had made paramount the royal law found repeated in the new testament. (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12: 28-34; James 2:8; Romans 13:8, 10; Galatians 5:14) If they truly loved the Father, they would indeed love his Son if they fully understood the dynamics of filial love.
To love God, as our Father, is to concomitantly love and follow his Son. The first precedes loving others. To be obedient in our love for God the Father we see the Divinity of Christ, and both the Father and Son in a combinate mission to redeem humanity. The work of Christ when healing the lame man on the Sabbath at the Pool of Bethesda is a perfect demonstration of loving compassion to a disabled man. 8
Examine other texts in John 5, confirming the absolute equality of the Son with the Father. 9
- In his Ministering Service to mankind: John 5:16–18
- In his Conjoined Focused Will: John 5:19
- In his Mutual Love and Compassionate Co-working: John 5:20
- In his Sovereign Rights of Healing and Imparting Life to the dead: John 5:21
- In his Divine Judicial Honors: John 5:22–23
- In Imparting Eternal Life at the Final Resurrection: John 5:24–26
- In Judicial Power and Authority to Judge both the righteous and those who have done evil and not repented: John 5:27–30.
Arthur Pink offers an interesting insight into how God’s power will bring the atomically disintegrated bodies in the grave to rise from the grave for the Final Judgement of Christ: In connection with the Deity of Christ in these last verses, the fact that “all that are in the graves shall hear” the voice of Christ and shall “come forth unto judgement, proves that He is far more than the most exalted human. Who but God is able to regather all the scattered elements which have gone to corruption? Who but God is capable of acting as Judge of all humanity who died in history past? None but God can read the heart, and none but He possesses the necessary wisdom for such a stupendous task as determining the sentence due to each one of that vast assemblage which will stand before the great white throne. Thus we see that from start to finish this wonderful passage sets forth the Godhood of the Savior. Let us then honour Him even as we honour the Father, and prostrate ourselves before Him in adoring worship. 10
John McArthur sums up the fact that Jesus is indeed God: There is no question more important than, “Who is Jesus Christ?” Its implications are profound and its significance unparalleled. Simply posing it immediately evokes a vast array of emotions—from outright hostility to fervent adoration. Merely contemplating it is not enough—it is a question that must be answered. And answering it incorrectly no matter what the excuse, ultimately leads to eternal devastation. Throughout history, that very question has sparked much confusion and debate. Such was even true in Jesus’ time. When He asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt. 16:13), the disciples listed several popular possibilities: “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets” (Matt. 16:14). There is, however, only one correct answer to Jesus’ question, and Peter gave it when he said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). 11
Scripture abundantly reaffirms Peter’s assessment of Christ’s true identity. He is called “God” (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Heb. 1:8; 1 John 5:20), “our great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1), the “Mighty God” (Isa. 9:6), the “I AM” (John 8:58; cf. Ex. 3:14), the “first and the last” (Rev. 1:17; 22:13; cf. Isa. 44:6; 48:12), the “Lord of lords” (Rev. 17:14; cf. Deut. 10:17), and the “Alpha and the Omega” (Rev. 22:13; cf. Rev. 1:8). He is one in essence with the Father (John 10:30); He exists in the form of God (Phil. 2:6) and is the “exact representation of His nature” (Heb. 1:3); He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:3; cf. Gen. 1:1; Isa. 40:28); He is the Lord of the 7th-day Sabbath (Ex. 20:11; Matt. 12:8; Luke 6:5); and “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). He is the One who forgives sins (Mark 2:7, 10; cf. Isa. 43:25; Dan. 9:9), raises the dead (John 5:21; 11:25), and receives the worship reserved for God alone (Phil. 2:10 [cf. Isa. 45:23]; Matt. 14:33; cf. Matt. 4:10). Clearly, the biblical evidence leads to only one possible conclusion: Jesus Christ is God. 12
1 Barton, B., Comfort, P., Osborne, G., Taylor, L. K., & Veerman, D. (2001). Life Application New Testament Commentary (p. 394). Wheaton, IL: Tyndale.
2 Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (p. 258). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot.
4 Wiersbe, Warren W.. The BE Series Bundle: The Gospels: Be Loyal, Be Diligent, Be Compassionate, Be Courageous, Be Alive, and Be Transformed (The BE Series Commentary) (p. 735). David C Cook.
5 Glen Jackman, Theological Application
6 Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The interpretation of St. John’s gospel (p. 379). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.
7 Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (p. 249). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.
8 Glen Jackman, Theological Application
9 Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (p. 258). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot.
11 John MacArthur, New Testament Commentary